Why Employers Can’t Expect Employees to ‘Yoga’ Their Way Out Of Burnout

Burnout is at an all-time high. The World Health Organization has its long definition of burn-out but to me, it has three main symptoms; exhaustion, depression and cynicism.  According to a report by Mckinsey, four out of five HR leaders say that mental health is their top priority for their organisation. So how did we get here? How come everyone is burn-out all of a sudden? 


From my point of view, a lot of us are living our lives back to front with rather questionable values and that is what is leading to burnout. Work is just one aspect of our life and we cannot focus on it, to the exclusion of everything else and expect not to pay a heavy price for our mental health.


I was speaking to a working mother the other day who was stressed out, time-poor and constantly exhausted. Both she and her husband were in the same position so needless to say their relationship was on life support. And yet, from her point of view, their children were seeing two hard-working parents who were able to provide for them so they were setting them a good example.


Am I the only one that sees the absurdity of this way of living? How about the children seeing parents who strike a good balance between work and family and find time for each other? How about parents who are not too tired and can fully engage with the children and let them know that they don’t have to work within an inch of their lives just to live? I wouldn’t mind but the workplace that people devote the lifeforce to doesn’t exactly treat them well either.


According to the Mckinsey report quoted above, research shows that when employees are asked about aspects of their job that undermines their mental health what they come up frequently is:


  • Always being on call 
  • Unfair treatment 
  • Unreasonable workload
  • Low autonomy 
  • Lack of social support


The working mothers among you will feel the lack of social support keenly. Does this sound like the type of place you need to devote your life to or worse still bring up your children to expect to live in? This is what leads to the cynicism and depression so common with burnout.


Employers now understand that they ignore employee well-being at their peril but their response still doesn’t get to the root of the problem. You can supply all the wellness programmes that you want to your employees but if they always feel like they are ‘on call’, they will not be able to take advantage of those programmes. Nobody with an unreasonable workload is taking time out at lunchtime to meditate or do a downward dog!


Systemic changes are needed in the workplace to allow employees to be able to tend to their well-being. Managers need to model the right behaviours and for them to do that, it should form part of their performance appraisals. I am still waiting for the day when the outcome of a poll of managers’ direct reports will form part of their performance review.


Toxic workplace behaviour which tends to have a top-down trajectory is the biggest driver of burnout. Change your leaders’ behaviours and your wellness programmes stand half a chance of taking hold and you stand a better chance of staff retention.


Next time you think about sending your senior management on a wellness retreat because they made the figures for that quarter and deserve to be rewarded, check in with their staff and see how many of them are hanging by a fine thread.


If you are a working mother suffering from burnout and want to have a free chat with me, click here to book a call with me.


If you want to find out more, you can watch my free webinar here.